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Buffalo to play far fewer ?back-to-back games

The Sabres already have their first victory of the 2012-13 season.

Buffalo achieved its goal of playing fewer back-to-back games with Thursday's release of next season's schedule. The Sabres, who have led the NHL in back-to-backs since 2005-06, will have just 11 such sets next year. It will be the fewest ever for the club, which has averaged 20 back-to-backs per season throughout its existence.

The Sabres did it by giving up most of their traditional Friday night home games. Buffalo will welcome opponents to First Niagara Center just four times on Fridays, down from their average of 12 per season over the past seven years.

"Terry Pegula tasked us with getting the best possible schedule for our players regardless of whether it meant sacrificing prime home weekend dates," Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black said. "As such, our schedule-making requests and decisions this year were driven by a ‘Hockey First' philosophy that sought to reduce back-to-back situations and maximize the amount of recovery time between games."

The Sabres' healthy season-ticket base and run of sellout crowds have made the move away from Fridays possible. The team stacked up Friday dates to try to attract fans, especially following the 2003 bankruptcy, but with the building nearly full before individual tickets even go on sale, the team can afford to host games during the week and not experience a significant drop in attendance.

The Sabres are also changing the start times for their Friday contests. All weekday games will start at 7 p.m., a half-hour earlier than the previous Friday puck drop.

"We believe that the earlier 7 p.m. start time will make the travel schedule easier for our players and will make it easier for our younger fans to follow the team on school nights," Black said.

The Sabres will play at the foot of Washington Street 41 times, with Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays being the busiest. They will play nine games on each day. In addition to Friday, the Sabres will be home four times on Wednesday and Sunday. They will have two Monday games.

The Sabres will begin the season with seven of their first 10 games at home, including a season-opening visit by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 13. The Sabres have an early and arduous trip West following their run at home. Buffalo will visit Philadelphia, San Jose, Phoenix and Anaheim in a span of six days Nov. 6-11. The Sabres have an additional four-game road trip Dec. 17-23 that takes them through Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Colorado.

The Sabres' longest homestand is a four-game run in January that sandwiches All-Star Weekend (Jan. 26-27).

Buffalo will host Ottawa for ‘Tux and Pucks' on New Year's Eve with a 5 p.m. start time. The St. Louis Blues will visit the Sabres on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 3) at 3:30 p.m.

The Sabres will close the 82-game schedule with two home games, April 11 against the New York Rangers and April 13 against the Boston Bruins.

The schedule, however, is dependent on the NHL and NHL Players' Association agreeing to a collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires Sept. 15.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com